The team made a return to the marshes this morning for the March snipe count. Seriously delayed, but thankfully not cancelled like January and February. Heavy going over the very wet ground. However the snipe seem quite happy with the conditions as there were a fair number still around this late in the season. 38 flushed overall, eight of which were jack. 10 of the birds –including one jack – in School Pond, the rest in Big Meadow. An encouraging showing of meadow pipits: 2 in Hay Meadow, 2 in School Pond (plus a moorhen) and three in Big Meadow. Graham also reported a brown hare in West Field seen on his reserve inspection prior to the count.
Exceedingly wet underfoot, but at least the rain and wind had abated. A decent tally of snipe – 46 counted in all. 12 in School Pond, 33 in Big Meadow (including 2 jack) and a solitary bird in Hay Meadow. A female pheasant and four meadow pipits were also spotted in Big Meadow.
Yesterday’s flush count was most satisfying: the second highest monthly number of snipe since the counts started in January 2013 and a new record for Big Meadow. A slow start with 3 in the Hay Meadow and 6 in School Pond, where the whole area was awash. But in Big Meadow, they were flying up in groups. 110 counted, eleven of them jacks. Add in the one seen earlier by Graham on his walk-through in Lower Sowerholme gives a total of 120. Now well ahead of the measly score for the whole of last winter.
Snipe were not the only highlight. Meadow pipit were seen in Big Meadow and School Pond, where a scurrying vole was almost trod on. We also saw the curlew spotted by Christine. It was feeding in the southern end of Big Meadow and then moved to the Willow Pond area of Lower Sowerholme. A male peregrine flew westwards over Big Meadow.
On the more grizzly side, but evidence of wildlife presence, there was a mallard skull in Big Meadow, a skinned hedgehog in School Pond and some dried out frog spawn on the grass in the Hay Meadow.
Finally an encouraging flush count! In fact, the highest January total of snipe since the winter of 2014/15. 59 birds flushed including 5 jack snipe. Breakdown was 39 in Big Meadow, 7 in School Pond, 8 in the Hay Meadow, 4 in Upper Sowerholme plus one by the ponds in Flora Field. In addition, the first woodcock of the season was spotted in Upper Sowerholme.
There was a heron in Upper Sowerholme, probably the same one Graham had seen earlier in the Flora ponds and then in Willow Pond (Lower Sowerholme). Likewise the 6 teal seen in Upper Sowerholme and the 4 flying over Big Meadow were probably part of the group of 11 Graham had disturbed on Willow Pond. Also noted were a meadow pipit and a wren in Big Meadow and 4 female pheasants in Flora Field.
With the onset of a colder spell of weather, we were hoping for a high count of snipe this morning. The reality was another modest tally. With the marshes frozen, the estuary is probably a more attractive feeding ground. The breakdown was 22 common snipe and 3 jack; 5 of the birds jumping out of the rush around School Pond, the rest flushed in Big Meadow.
The highlight was a very close and clear sighting of a female sparrowhawk. She took off from the depths of the Big Meadow marsh and landed at the top of the ash tree by the bend in the Fauna path. She may well have been responsible for the two pigeon carcasses spotted in Upper Sowerholme. Field voles seem to be present in good numbers in the Hay Meadow. They have been nibbling the rushes and were seen running about. A heron took off from the vicinity of Friars Pond, and there were several meadows pipits in Big Meadow.
Another very wet tramp through the marshes this morning. A total of 37 snipe flushed, one of them a jack. Breakdown was 1 in Hay Meadow, I in Upper Sowerholme, 3 in School Pond and 32 in Big Meadow. There was a water rail calling in Upper Sowerholme, and a rodent scurrying amongst the Big Meadow rush (possibly a field vole). Also noted were 4 meadow pipits amongst the reeds in Upper Sowerholme and another two in School Pond, along with a wren. Earlier in the morning Graham had seen three herons on Willow Pond (Lower Sowerholme) and a cock and two hen pheasants in Flora Field.
At least we didn’t get drenched this morning! But the reserve marshes are incredibly wet for this time of year. Despite the temperature still being quite high, we flushed 20 snipe, all in Big Meadow. One to took off from Ian’s feet, so probably a jack snipe already back from its breeding grounds in either northern Europe or northern Russia. There was a kestrel hovering over the Big Meadow marsh and another meadow pipit to add to the six noted in School Pond.
Poor results again. The penultimate flush count of this winter yielded just 16 snipe (including 1 jack). Apart from one in the Hay Meadow, all the rest were in Big Meadow. This total is exactly a tenth of the highest-ever monthly count on the reserve –160 in March 2016.
On the plus side, teal are still making a regular appearance. Twelve were counted on School Pond, along with two mallards and a moorhen. There were three mallards in Big Meadow too. (Hopefully some of these will adopt the the artificial nests in the Hay Meadow and Upper Sowerholme.) A meadow pipit and a pair of reed bunting were also spotted here.
The marshes were slightly less wet for this month’s flush count, and the temperature feeling pleasantly mild after the last few days of cold and wind. But not many snipe in evidence. 7 in the Hay Meadow, 5 in School Pond, 17 in Big Meadow (4 of them jack) and 6 in Upper Sowerholme. Total of 35 was actually comparable to last year, but well short of March 2016’s record tally.
But if we weren’t calling ‘snipe’, there was a lot of other wildlife to grab our interest:
- heron (presumably the same one) seen earlier in Flora Field (along with a mistle thrush) then spotted flying above Upper Sowerholme. taking off from the Big Meadow marsh and seen again landing in Cromwell’s Pond (Hay Meadow)
- two hen pheasants in Upper Sowerholme
- a woodcock in the Lucy Brook willows in the Hay Meadow
- a reed bunting on the old alder tree in Big Meadow
- a meadow pipit in the Big Meadow marsh
- a skylark around School Pond
- 12 teal, mostly lurking in the rushes rather than on the water of School Pond
- and a real highlight – a brown hare disturbed in the west side of Big Meadow, which proceeded to make a high speed circuit of the field.
Lovely bright, warm morning for our last outing of the 2016/17 season. A total of 17 snipe still in the marshes (similar to this time last year). 1 in the Hay Meadow, 6 in Upper Sowerholme and 10 in Big Meadow. Somewhat surprisingly, there were no snipe flushed in School Pond. Perhaps being deterred by too much standing water – the numbers were down last month when it was also very wet.
For the season as a whole, the total number of snipe counted was almost identical to last season (390 versus 393). But the distribution over the months was different. Last winter’s peak was in March. This winter’s peak was in December, following a strong November tally.
A frog was spotted close to Lucy’s Pool. Reed bunting and meadow pipit were in evidence in Big Meadow. And after the group had split up, Graham disturbed a brown hare at the north end of the Big Meadow marsh as he made his way home.